Join in celebrating this extraordinary moment with me – this week marked 70 years of the The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) – and coincidentally the launch of my transport for London, Art on the Underground night tube map cover commission
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 December 1948. Motivated by the experiences of the preceding world wars, the Universal Declaration was the first time that countries agreed on a comprehensive statement of inalienable human rights. The magnitude of the life saving articles was softly and eternally drawn as a salve to calm the flippancy with which we forget to honour these human rights, by artist Monica Ross, whose Acts of Memory I performed in with Crescent Arts at Scarborough Library. Ross’s work leads much of my thinking about creating. My tube map cover attempts to honour such care for our interdependence and love and treasuring our human Rights. The work draws on my long-standing text-based series, examining individual experiences of structural racism in Britain. Entitled “hand this piece to one Jacob Aston West (b.approx. 1941-3, Montserrat)” the tube map cover is a performance score, a prod at an instruction, playing with the “piece” of paper and the weight of what it contains – also potentials for peace, for which we are all responsible. I couldn’t overlook the distribution levels of the map catering to my selfish ego – a Christmas wish if you like – maybe someone out there knows Jacob Aston West, my biological father who I’ve never met? And his name interlinked with mine will be all over the city, the city housing Pentonville Prison, where he was during the period of my arrival into this world. Thank you to all those who have offered suggestions for finding him and hope that my earnings will one day pay to engage someone with experience of finding people, my capacity’s limits. If thats you or someone you know – please get in touch. Thank you to all the many wonderful people who contributed to and supported this commission which included a wonderful research trip to Glasgow.
Whether deliberately or not, Henry Moore’s public art and his drawings of the tube stations used as air raid shelters, seared in my memory since adolescence, informed my muddy palette and rough textures as did the weather and dirt and grime. The Capital for me is a muddle of textures, a site of grief in many ways, and with grief comes celebration. This work honours our power, our potentials for renewal, healing, joy and celebrates the strength and commitment to justice Baroness Lawrence advocates for every one of us, here speaking about Grenfell. See The Guardian 2/6/18 “Doreen Lawrence: Grenfell tenants faced ‘institutional indifference’” and 9/5/18 designcurial article: RECLAIMING THE TUBE
The last in the trio of works commissioned by Art on the Underground is a risograph (edition of 100) titled “In Memory of Sarah Reed”. The 3 works examine individual experiences of structural racism in Britain, referencing incidents of exploitation. The police brutality #sarahreed #sayhername faced, followed by her death in prison, despite her mental health issues known to prison officers, doctors, social workers, lawyers & police, is institutional abuse writ large. Given certain circumstances we could all find ourselves subject to institutional abuses, violences, dehumanisation & this work signals the still sensed kernel “freedom will blossom”: “Sarah Reed’s Christmas card to her mother read: “Mum, this is just to say Merry Xmas … PS. Get me out of jail.” It was one of a number of appeals from Sarah to her family in the last weeks of her life. “She kept writing to me and other family members saying, ‘Please help me to get out of here; I shouldn’t be in here; I’m not being treated,” her mother, Marylin Reed, says. “Her priority in every letter was: ‘I need my medication.’” When Marylin visited her daughter in Holloway prison on 2 January, she was dismayed to find Sarah looking unwell, and behaving strangely. She remembers a prison guard asking her: “Have you got any idea what’s wrong with her?” It was a disconcerting question, because prison staff should have known that #sarahreed had serious, long-standing mental health problems. Nine days later, Sarah, 32, was found dead in her cell. The family was told first by the prison that she was found hanging, and later that she was found lying on her bed, with a “sophisticated ligature”. The precise sequence of events in the months, days and hours leading up to her death will remain unclear until an inquest is held later this year, but already the tragedy has raised important (if depressingly familiar) questions about the treatment of people with serious mental illness by the criminal justice system, &how that intersects with the institutional racism faced by black Britons.” Guardian #mentalhealth #blacklivesmatter #metoo 17/2/16 print available to buy for £35 goes back to support the commissioning programme.
(image: Brian Roberts, Instituting Care, Bluecoat, Liverpool until 10 march 2019)
In an attempt to put all the work this year into context Daniella Rose King, Whitney-Lauder Curatorial fellow at ICA, Philadelphia and I have accomplished a text that I am most proud of. Because despite the pain speaking about “rural belongings” this comes closest to my sharing a truth that belongs to me. I also consider it a contribution to knowledge. We’ve been sitting on this all year and I am overjoyed to finally be sharing it. It would mean the world should you chose to read.